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The origins of the school are not known precisely, but the school dates back to 1471, the year in which two confraternities took up residence: that of San Gerolamo and that of Santa Maria della Giustizia (Mariegola ‘Statute Book’ of 1440). The members of this second congregation had the pitiful task of accompanying condemned prisoners to their execution, taking care of organizing the processions and the reading of public prayers; hence the name ‘della Buona Morte’ (of the good death) or ‘dei Picái’ (of the hanged men) given to the School.
These confraternities had had their headquarters in the nearby Church of San Fantin since 1485, but moved to the School thirteen years later, remaining there until 1562. The subsequent change of location was not due to a spontaneous decision by the members of the congregation, but due to force majeure: the building was destroyed by a terrible fire.
The palace was rebuilt even more beautiful than before after it was destroyed, thanks to the the work of the most famous and capable architects, sculptors and painters of the time. Great artists such as Alessandro Vittoria and Antonio Contin took on the project and the current facade was built in Istrian stone, with beautiful elements and forms linked to the Baroque. The pediment forms a spacious niche containing the figure of Christ Crucified by Andrea Dell'Aquila along with three statues of the Virgin Mary and two angels, attributable to both Agostino Rubini and Dell'Aquila.
The building was finished at the start of the Seventeenth century and its new appearance corresponds to what can be seen today: on the ground floor is a small church (now a conference hall) and sacristy (the Sala Cini today), while on the first floor is the Sala dell’Albergo (now a reading room) and another small Albergo (know today as the Sala Tommaseo). When the School was suppressed in 1806 the building was allocated to the Società Veneta di Medicina, which six years later, on precisely the 12th of January 1812, merged with various cultural institutes to form the Ateneo Veneto.
In the church of the palace (now used as a conference hall) were two marvelous altars enclosed by balustrades made by Alessandro Vittoria. Above the altar of the Crucifixion one could admire a 1400 wooden cross and the bronze statues of the Virgin and St John the Evangelist, while a bronze statue of St Jerome, one of the patrons of the school, could be found above the altar on the left wall. Unfortunately these altars and works are no longer present. In the place of the altar of the Crucifixion now stands a bronze bust from the Church of San Geminiano, a piece by Vittoria depicting Tommaso Rangone, a Sixteenth century philologist from Ravenna, while marble busts of the venetian scientists and medics Nicolò and Apollonio Massa, who also both lived in the XVI century, have been placed where the altar of St Jerome once stood.
Fortunately, the thirteen paintings depicting the Cycle of Purgatory, executed on canvas by Jacopo Palma il Giovane and concluded in december 1600, are still housed in the coffered ceiling. Audiences participating in one of the numerous conferences held by the Ateneo Veneto will also be able to enjoy the works of Leonardo Corona, Baldassare d’Anna and Antonio Zanchi.
The Sacristy of the School is now called Sala Cini and is the result of a series of restorations which have altered the original name of the Sala (Sala del Consiglio). It was built in the XVII century as part of the smaller building and can be found at the back of the historic building; it was renamed upon construction as the New Sacristy, as it substituted the old one. Between 1667 and 1695 it was adorned with splendid paintings by some of the greatest painters of the time: Paolo Veronese, whose cycle of Marian stories is now housed in the Sala di Lettura of the Ateneo Veneto, Francesco Fontebasso, Jacopo Palma il Giovane and Alessandro Longhi.
On the occasion of the 35th anniversary of the death of Vittorio Cini, member of the Ateneo Veneto from 1936 to 1977, his nephew Giovanni Alliata di Montereale decided the finance the restoration work in the Sala, which included a complete restoration of the hall, a cutting-edge dehumidification system and works done on the furnishings. The Sala was inaugurated on the 19th of October 2013 and was named after Vittorio Cini.
Going up the huge staircase one reaches the Sala di Lettura, Albergo Grande, once characterized by large paintings on the walls and ceiling by Palma il Giovane of which today nothing remains: in 1836 the majestic work on the ceiling was brutally ripped out to be moved to state-owned warehouses where it was then mercilessly divided into numerous pieces - only one of these is now kept in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. Fortunately, this masterpiece is still documented in a sketch kept in the Pinacoteca della Fondazione Querini Stampalia di Venezia. Today the Sala di Lettura exhibits pictorial decorations by Paolo Veronese and his school and by Jacopo Tintoretto with his Apparition of the Virgin to St Jerome. It also houses sculptures designed to recall the celebrated doctors such as Francesco Aglietti, Viviano Viviani, Santoro Santorio, Gian Raimondo Forti, Francesco Paiola and the architect Antonio Diedio. A room near the Sala di Lettura hosts the Ateneo Veneto library, which holds 40,000 volumes.
Finally, the Sala Niccolò Tommaseo was inaugurated on the 4th of December 1913 by Prof. Giuseppe Pavanello and is dedicated to the celebrated scholar and patriot of which there is a bust, along with those of two other patriots Jacopo Bernardi and Daniele Manin.